Florida’s governor plans to sign an order ‘protecting the rights of parents’ on masks in schools.


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Florida’s governor plans to sign an order ‘protecting the rights of parents’ on masks in schools.

Students heading home from school in Miami Beach in November.Credit…Scott McIntyre for The New York Times

July 30, 2021, 3:59 p.m. ET

Defiant in the face of new federal mask recommendations, Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida announced on Friday that he would sign an executive order giving parents the power to decide for themselves whether their children wear masks in school this fall.

Mr. DeSantis, a Republican who has made freedom from Covid-19 restrictions a signature part of his administration, said he planned to sign the order “protecting the rights of parents” amid an intensifying national movement to control the pandemic, as a highly contagious Delta variant of the virus rips through the unvaccinated population.

“In Florida, there will be no lockdowns,” Mr. DeSantis said to cheers at a restaurant in Cape Coral, Fla. “There will be no school closures. There will be no restrictions and no mandates.”

Mr. DeSantis’s office did not immediately respond to a request for a copy of the order on Friday, and the extent of the order — which Mr. DeSantis said he planned to sign “very soon” — remained unclear.

The announcement came after Broward County, the second largest school district in Florida, voted this week to require masks in schools. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has also recommended that all students, teachers and employees wear masks, regardless of their vaccination status.

The resurgence of the coronavirus has burdened hospitals anew across the country, with a rush of patients fueled by the virus’s virulent Delta variant catching doctors off guard. Florida has reported the highest daily average hospitalizations in the nation, 36 for every 100,000 people over the past two weeks, according to data compiled by The New York Times. In Jacksonville, hospitals have more Covid patients than ever before, despite the availability of vaccines.

And on Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that fully immunized people who are infected with the Delta variant may spread the virus to others just as easily as unvaccinated people. The vaccines remain powerfully effective against severe illness and death, and infections in vaccinated people are thought to be comparatively rare.

The issue of masking is particularly potent in Florida, which is experiencing one of the fastest outbreaks in the country and where many schools will be starting within weeks. Florida never had a statewide mask mandate for the general public. Less than half of the population in Florida is fully vaccinated, and children under 12 are not yet eligible for the vaccine.

Citing research that found that transmission of the virus in schools was low last year, Mr. DeSantis reiterated that the decision about masks should be in the hands of the parents.

He said his order would not impede children being masked if their parents so choose, without acknowledging that universal masking — not just of those who opt to wear masks — plays a role in interrupting transmission.

“We really do need to make sure that the parents’ rights are protected,” he said.

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